Happy Birthday to my long-time friend, Lewis Bettman of St. Louis, on October 23. Dr. Bettman, as I write this greeting, I still have to laugh at the magnificent acting performance of beautiful Mary Frann and yours truly 43 years ago. I’ll always remind you of it for as long as we live. In a word, gotcha! Happy Birthday.
It’s not a happy day for me. I’m from St. Louis, and I lived in Los Angeles for many years as well. I don’t have to go any further, do I? I was really pulling for Mike Scioscia and the Angels. And after Albert Pujols became the first player ever hit a ball from Houston to Galveston in Game 5 of the NLCS, the Cardinals, the same Cardinals who strolled through the regular season, failed to show up in Game 6. All very disappointing! The Angels and Cardinals both needed Viagra; they sure couldn’t get their bats up. Then there’s my other favorite team, the Dodgers; now that’s really pouring salt on my wound. The Dodgers don’t even have bats.
Story of the Week
THE NFL QUARTERBACK RATING SYSTEM
Don Steinberg’s article in GQ in October, 2001 was the catalyst to this feature story.
Here’s the deal. I’m laying 10:1 that none of you can accurately and comprehensively explain the formula that is used to rate QB’s in the NFL. And until I did my homework (my preparation time for this article set a personal record for me) on same, I couldn’t either. The more I got into it, the more I felt like the Aflac duck in the television commercial listening to Yogi Berra in the barber shop. And the more I got into it, the more I realized that the results are very misleading; more about that point later.
Here’s the formula. I’m making none of it up:
C/A-0.3 divided by 0.2. That answer is added to Y/A-3 divided by 4. That answer is added to T/A divided by 0.05. That answer is added to 0.095-I/A divided by 0.04. That answer is multiplied by 16.6667.
Now that we have the formula, let’s continue. Why do we measure the most important player on the field using a quadratic equation so puzzling that it is actually used as the opening problem in the math textbook College Algebra, 8th. Edition? “Other than one attorney in our office, I am unaware of a single human being who has the capacity to figure a quarterback rating,” said star agent Leigh Steinberg, who has negotiated multimillion dollar deals for NFL quarterbacks for three decades. Yet Leigh Steinberg cannot explain the system.
“I know interceptions kill your rating, but if you asked me to compute it, I’d have no idea,” admits Steve Young, recent Hall of Fame inductee. Young has history’s highest career (96.9) and single season (112.8) passer ratings. Yet Steve Young cannot explain those numbers.
Prior to this craziness, the NFL had struggled with how to crown a passing king. The league began keeping individual stats in the mid-1930’s. Back then, the passing leader was the QB with the most passing yardage. From 1938-1940, the passer with the highest completion percentage was rated #1. For 1941, six separate categories determined the distinction, and the categories were weighted. Then over the next 30 years, the criteria waffled back and forth.
In 1971, Commissioner Pete Rozelle decided to fine-tune the system once and for all. He called upon Don Smith, a statistical whiz and executive at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith’s goal was to build a system where each quarterbacking performance could get a fixed rating. Completion percentage, passing yardage, touchdown passes and interceptions were the thrust, and he then affixed weighting points to each. Then he added his algebraic conversion formula and, presto, Smith came up with the most convoluted measurement of productivity known to man. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity has fewer words than does Smith’s innovation, and is conceivably easier to understand. (In retrospect, Pete should have asked Albert E. to come up with the QB rating system.)
My contention, as I noted early-on in this article, is that the rating system is very misleading as well. As an example, it takes only passing into account, and gives no credit whatsoever to the mobility/rushing yardage of the QB. As another example, and taking nothing away from the great Steve Young, he was a passer in the West Coast offense scheme. QB’s who throw the short, controlled passes of that scheme will invariably have a higher rating because their completion percentage will be higher, their interception percentage will be lower, and most yards in this offense are compiled after the catch is made. There are other flaws in the QB rating system, but by virtue of space constraints here, that has to be a subject for another time, a very long time from now.
What is the subject for this time is the fact, pure and simple, that the whole damn thing is virtually incomprehensible to “all” involved. That is a fair statement when “all” includes the NFL, its ownership, its management, its coaches, its players, its fans, and the media. It doesn’t get more “all” than that.
Last Week’s Trivia
Joe Kapp quarterbacked the U. of California in the Rose Bowl, British Columbia in the Grey Cup, and Minnesota in the Super Bowl. Joe Kapp was a fine quarterback who did not get the recognition he deserved in the NFL.
Trivia Question of the Week
Since 1950, the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers have played their home games in four different stadiums. How many can you name? (I suspect you’ll come up with only three of them.) See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.